If you run in certain circles, you hear it every day: The publishing houses are dying, and books are therefore dying. Writers, we presume, are all also dying. The notion of bookselling as a corporate moneymaker, as opposed to a pursuit of foolish love or curatorial impulse, is a relatively new one, and also apparently short lived: Despite the recent success of Swedish murder thrillers and Jersey Shore autobiographies, the major houses in New York are struggling simply to survive.
Portland's Publication Studio, however, under founders Matthew Stadler and Patricia No, has for the past year been using new technology to rebuild the book publishing model from the ground up. Rather than pay out advances the author is unlikely ever to recoup, and then issue large initial print runs that might just end up in the pulper, Publication Studio is one of the first small presses to publish entirely on a print-on-demand basis, with book profits split 50-50 between publisher and author.
Simply put, if you don't buy the book, the book doesn't even exist; once bought, the book is printed and bound at Publication Studio's downtown offices next door to Tugboat Brewing (this takes perhaps 20 minutes), then cordially sent to your doorstep. Most of Publication Studio's books are what Stadler and No like to call "jank editions," bound into covers made from recycled file folders they get for free from an office supply depot. The press has gone through three binding machines already in one year—Ol' Gluey, Li'l Gluey and now Nü Gluey—and has a production capacity of maybe 100 books a day. It's printed nearly 10,000 copies of more than 60 titles since opening near the end of 2009.
Print-on-demand has generally been the province of schmaltzy online, pay-to-play vanity presses, but Publication Studio uses the technology to give itself the freedom to publish bold, off-the-radar-or-map books more traditional houses wouldn't likely touch because they'd be considered too risky. Since initial investment is essentially nil, Publication Studio is able to pretty much publish whatever work it thinks has merit, without worrying about marketability. Recently, this has included a new translation of Walter Benjamin, an illustrated edition of Book 11 of The Odyssey (with a new prose poem translation by Stadler), a lyrically rich novel called A River Story by Washington author Anna Odessa Linzer and a wild art-world satire (Revenge of the Decorated Pigs) by former Whitney Biennial curator Lawrence Rinder.
"The traditional publishing model is great if you have a lot of money," says Stadler. "…James Laughlin, with New Directions press, is a great example of what you can do with an inheritance from a steel fortune, but he specifically set it up so that he wouldn't be profitable for 36 years. Most of us can't do that." What Publication Studio has done, however, is create a viable model for the survival of literature even as the big publishing houses slowly crumble under their own bloat. It is, in short, a self-sustaining, community-based, one-cottage industry for books. No small thing, that.
MORE: Publication Studio's offices and storefront are located at 717 SW Ankeny St., 360-4702. Books available for sale at publicationstudio.biz.